U.S. now sees Al Qaida as leader of war effort in Iraq

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The United States has concluded that Al Qaida and its allies are taking over the Sunni insurgency war in Iraq.

U.S. officials said Central Command officers in Iraq have seen increasing evidence of Al Qaida and Islamic volunteer forces participating and even leading the insurgency war in the Sunni Triangle. They said Al Qaida has succeeded in presenting Iraq as the next arena for what the movement terms the Islamic holy war against the United States.

"Foreign terrorists are attracted to areas where the coalition is on the offense in the global war on terror, and in Iraq we are on the offense in the global war on terror," Defense Department acting spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said. "There's clearly an indication that foreign terrorists are involved in the kind of violence that we see here."

[On Monday, an Al Qaida spokesman said in a tape broadcast on the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television that Osama Bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Omar were alive, Middle East Newsline reported. The spokesman, identified as Abdul Rahman Al Najdi, reiterated a call to Muslims to fight U.S. troops in Iraq.]

Officials said the methods of Al Qaida differ from those of loyalists to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. They said the Al Qaida insurgents favor truck and roadside bombs rather than engaging U.S. troops with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades or small arms fire.

"I think we clearly are adapting as, as you understand, that what began as attacks that were primarily small-arms based evolved into mortars and then rocket-propelled grenades, and now increasingly is through the use of improvised explosive devices," Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "We will adapt to that reality and appropriately provide for force protection for our forces while we engage the perpetrators, both during an event but, more importantly, to engage them prior to an act of violence against our forces."

Officials and analysts have asserted that Al Qaida and aligned groups will increase their involvement in Iraq. They cite the re-entry of Al Qaida-sponsored groups such as Ansar Islam and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, both of whom were active in Iraq before the U.S.-led war in March.

"They're [U.S. military] going after these foreign terrorists and finding them," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Monday. "And they will continue to do that and defeat them wherever they may be."

Kurdish sources in northern Iraq said Ansar Islam has infiltrated the cities of Kirkuk and Suleimaniya. They said the Ansar operatives have been inciting residents of those cities to attack U.S. troops.

"What I think they're [Al Qaida] attempting to do is to make Iraq into the 21st century version of what Afghanistan was," Bruce Hoffman, vice president for external affairs at the Washington-based Rand Corp. and a consultant on terrorism, said. "In other words, a rallying cry, a place where foreign fighters are supposed to come to defend Islam, that now is not the time to operate."

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